Mary Lou Retton
Dreams Do Come True
What Retton had envisioned years ago at seven years old, while watching Nadia Comaneci, had come to fruition. She had won the gold she had longed for. In addition to the gold for the all-around competition, Retton also earned a silver medal on the vault, and bronze medals in the uneven bars and floor exercise. She came home from the 1984 Olympics having earned the most medals any athlete had received that year. Once her competition was done Retton decided to go home to Fairmont, as she had not been home for over ten months, and due to security issues, there was not much she could do at the Games. She planned to fly back to Los Angeles for the closing ceremonies. Upon her arrival back home, Retton got a homecoming she never had expected in her wildest dreams. The town had been notified when her plane was to touch down, and there was a crowd of people waiting for her at the airport, holding signs and cheering for her. Retton was whisked away from the airport in a convertible, which was taken to a parade arranged for her through the streets of Fairmont. "Quickly made banners and signs had gone up all over town. Several said: We love you, Mary Lou, and Fairmont's Golden Girl. Precious Gifts Come in Small Packages another declared," said Sullivan. It was quite a sight. Retton participated in many celebrations following the Olympics, including one in New York with a ticker tape parade. She said it was nothing compared to the celebration put on by her home town.
Retton did not realize what a celebrity she had become. Everyone knew who she was and had fallen in love with her contagious smile. Retton was requested for a plethora of television engagements, including the Tonight Show, where she chatted excitedly with Joan Rivers who was filling in for Johnny Carson at the time. "She won a nation's heart with spunk and a high-wattage smile," reports Steve Wieberg for USA Today. Retton could not go anywhere without being recognized. She tried to disguise herself by wearing sunglasses, but when you are a 4' 9" dynamo, it is hardly a disguise. Every girl in America wanted to be just like Retton to have her "winning combination of power and personality," as conveyed in Teen Magazine. In the same article Retton shared, "I thought I'd go to the Olympics, do my best, see what happened, then go back to normal life. But it didn't work out that way."
Retton trained two more years with Karolyi, going on to win a third McDonald's American Cup Competition, which no one had done before. About her accomplishments she stated, "you have to have dedication. And you have to get the proper coaching." She continued by expressing her gratitude to Karolyi for his part in her success, saying "I couldn't have done it without him." Karolyi has nothing but good things to say about Retton as well saying "I have been teaching gymnastics 25 years, and had many world and Olympic champions, but
I have never coached anybody more positive and dedicated than this little girl." Retton returned the compliment to Karolyi, sharing "He gave me a confidence that I never would have had without him." She retired from full-time gymnastics in 1986, but has remained close to Karolyi.
Before Retton retired from full-time gymnastics she had already become involved in doing various endorsements for various products. The most notable was Wheaties, as she was the first woman to grace the infamous box. Retton continued to do her endorsements while attending the University of Texas. It was there she met her husband, Shannon Kelley. Kelley and Retton married in December of 1990. Kelley said "I know it sounds like a fairy tale, but when I first saw Mary Lou on television, I told my mom I had the strangest feeling that someday I would meet her and we would get married." It was only ten months later that the wheels went into motion to bring them together. Retton is now a mother to three children and continues to do motivational speaking across the country. "Retton's vivacity remains a breathtaking phenomenon," said Hollandsworth. Retton wrote an inspiring book in 2000 sharing her methods for happiness. "What I've been doing my whole life, from being in the Olympics to getting married and being a mother, is training for my own personal happiness. Now what I want to do is share my formula for happiness," she explained to Janice Lloyd of USA Today. In the book, she explains, "I tell people how to leave the comfort zone and meet life's challenges." Her and husband Shannon submitted a proposal for a program called Mary Lou's Flip Flop Shop which is now shown on FamilyNet, as well as several other networks. She explained, "My show will create a foundation for kids – teach them the values of honesty and respect. We will educate and entertain through the use of physical movement. This will be an interactive program that will be both educational and fun."
Mary Lou Retton showed the world that it is possible to aspire to something and with dedication and a great attitude, go on to achieve your dreams. She has helped people to see one can truly be happy simply being the best person each individual is called to be. Retton wants everyone to be able to accomplish the happiness she has. She shared "I smile because I am truly, fundamentally happy" That big smile on the outside comes from a place deep within me—and I want others to know how to find that place within themselves." Retton continues to inspire people, making public appearances, and doing her show for children. Sullivan sums up Retton's future best, stating "Mary Lou will survive. Her pretty face and winning smile, her charm, her cheerful, upbeat matter will be there for us to see for years to come."
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